What Is The Difference Between A Photographer And A Photojournalist?

Photographers and photojournalists are both professionals who use the same equipment in capturing images. They both have to be skilled at using photo editing software and be well-versed at techniques used in capturing images in whatever environmental conditions. However, the focus of their work and the message they both convey are different. Strictly speaking, photojournalists are also photographers but in common usage, photographers refer to those who take pictures of different subjects and events for commercial or private functions like weddings and birthdays. Photojournalists, on the other hand, specifically take images of and for news stories and submit them to the news agency they work for.

Photographers typically take still images of people, buildings, merchandise, landscapes and models. Those who specialize in portrait photography typically work in their own studios while those who focus on commercial and industrial photography go on location to take images for clients. These pictures are often used for a variety of purposes which can range from merchandise promotion to documentation to technical analysis. Photographers often have time on their side to take that perfect shot.

That same luxury is often not afforded to photojournalists. Also called news photographers, photojournalists must be ready to shoot pictures as the event unfolds. In this profession, what’s important is capturing the action of the moment and the prevailing emotion that personifies what those involved in the event must be feeling. In highly-charged situations such as riots, calamities and wars, photojournalists often only have a split second to get that perfect shot.

While photographers work in relatively safe situations like weddings, debuts, seminars and other social functions, the working conditions for photojournalists aren’t as ideal. They have to be ready to cover events like civil unrest, disasters and other newsworthy situations that could potentially endanger their lives. They also have to be ready to shoot pictures any time a news story breaks out so it’s a profession that does not have any specific schedule. Whereas photographers, especially those who run their own photo studios, have to schedule clients for their photo shoots, photojournalists have to be ready when the action breaks out. This means they need to be able to bring their gear and fly in the middle of the night if it is necessary. Their work hours will also depend on the length of time that the event will continue to take place. Thus, when it comes to comparing stress levels in the two professions, there is no doubt that news photographers encounter higher stress than other types of photographers.

What also distinguishes the work of photojournalists from photographers is how their string of images tells a story. News photographers are journalists and through the photos they capture, they seek to narrate an event in pictures. One picture is related to another or supports a previous image. Photographers are more concerned with getting that perfect picture—telling a story comes second. Each image is taken separately and not part of a whole, although those covering weddings or parties may have a chronological narration of the event.

Career Spotlight: Photojournalist

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